Behold the Dark Knight’s greatest hits.
Over the course of 85 episodes between 1992 and 1995, Batman: The Animated Series redefined Batman for an entire generation. Widely considered the character’s best interpretation by both fans and comics historians, Batman: The Animated Series was unlike any of its peers. It introduced dark themes, film noir influences, and an artistic vision that inspired fans of all ages. Each episode is a work of art, from the title cards to the loving comic book homages to the in-depth characterization and sophisticated scores. With 85 stories to choose from, you might ask yourself what are the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
We’ve done the legwork for you. From Killer Croc to Harley Quinn, we’ve compiled the 20 best episodes from the show’s two seasons. If you’re looking for a crash course in modern Batman theory, no interpretation has had a broader influence than this seemingly innocuous children’s cartoon from the ’90s. Let’s take a ride through Gotham.
1) “Harley’s Holiday”: Season 2, Episode 16
When people ask how Harley Quinn, the murderous girlfriend of the Joker, became such a beloved character among fans, we suggest you point them to “Harley’s Holiday.” While Quinn steals the show in every episode she appears in, “Harley’s Holiday” is her first real moment in the spotlight. On the day she is discharged from Arkham Asylum, Harley Quinn tries to make a fresh start. She’s not going to break the law; from here on out it’s living the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, the universe has other plans, putting her right back in Batman’s sights in this hysterical screwball adventure. Harley was a star from the moment she hit the screen, “Harley’s Holiday” is just her first big solo break.
2) “The Joker’s Favor”: Season 1, Episode 22
Few shows, regardless of genre, could leave their main character on the sidelines and still deliver one of the best episodes. “The Joker’s Favor” features barely any Batman, instead focusing on a loser named Charlie Collins. While driving home from a particularly lousy day, Charlie unknowingly curses at the Joker for cutting him off in traffic. At first, the Joker seems ready to kill him. Instead, he makes the schlub promise to do him a favor someday. Two years later the crown prince of crime pops back up in Charlie’s life, threatening to kill his family if he doesn’t help out. This pitch black episode showcases Batman: TAS’ ability to be legitimately terrifying at times, while still telling a story full of heart. Batman has maybe three minutes of total screen time, but the story keeps anyone from noticing.
3) “Heart of Ice”: Season 1, Episode 14
Winner of the 1993 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program, “Heart of Ice” is the sort of episode you show people who don’t believe cartoons can be art. “Heart of Ice” spins the tragic tale of Victor Fries, a scientist trapped in a cryogenic suit of his own creation after a terrible accident deforms his body and kills his wife. Taking the name Mr. Freeze, the doctor strikes out to get revenge on the people he blames for his wife’s death, even if it means killing Batman in the process. Some Batman villains are simply crazy, while others are looking to profit. Mr. Freeze is a purely tragic monster, a man transformed by his creation who is forced to live with the pain it caused. Hold your loved ones close and consider getting a tissue before you watch.
4) “Beware the Gray Ghost”: Season 1, Episode 18
Batman was originally inspired by the pulp radio hero known as The Shadow, an early pop-culture icon that inspired millions of children to dream of being a hero. In “Beware the Gray Ghost” we meet Batman’s Shadow, the titular Gray Ghost of his beloved childhood TV show. After a series of bombings bare eerie similarities to crimes from the show, Batman hunts down the actor who played Gray Ghost, Simon Trent, to get some answers. This love letter to the heroes of our childhoods focuses a lens on Batman’s softer side while paying tribute to the importance of pop culture. The fact that they cast Adam West, the ‘60s TV Batman, as Simon Trent is just an extra treat for fans.
5) “Feat of Clay Parts 1 & 2″: Season 1, Episodes 20 and 21
Perhaps no episode of Batman: TAS inspired as many nightmares for children as “Feat of Clay,” the boundary-pushing origin of the villain Clayface. Matt Hagen thought his career as an actor was over when his face was maimed in an accident, but an experimental chemical changes everything. Suddenly Hagen can reshape his face however he likes, and he just has to do a few jobs for the mob to get his fix. At least until he’s double-crossed and forced to overdose on the chemical. Instead of dying, Hagen becomes the monstrous shapeshifter Clayface, able to take any form and dead set on revenge. “Feat of Clay” is a portrait of drug abuse and loss that’s far beyond the years of Batman: TAS’ target audience. Thankfully, Fox’s censors trusted audiences to handle its occasionally gruesome violence and heavy messages.
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6) “Almost Got ‘Im”: Season 1, Episode 46
Batman isn’t known for humorous stories but “Almost Got ‘Im” is an exception. On a rare night off, Batman’s greatest villains gather around a card table for a game of poker and a night of conversation. Each takes a turn telling a story about a time they almost killed the Batman, with Killer Croc, in particular, earning a place in all fans’ hearts with his absurd contribution. “Almost Got ‘Im” is an anthology of sorts, giving each villain a moment to shine even as they’re humiliated. Its true genius comes from remembering this is a world where these villains all have to co-exist, and showing us what their relationships might be like.
7) “Fear of Victory”: Season 1, Episode 24
No medium has served the Scarecrow better than animation, and “Fear of Victory” stands as his proudest moment as a villain. Utilizing his fear toxin to rig sporting events, Scarecrow infects Robin’s mind, causing the Boy Wonder to fight through his nightmares or risk the lives of thousands. Batman: TAS’ distinct animation style brings life to every episode, but the way Scarecrow’s hallucinations are rendered are both horrifying and exhilarating. Everyone’s fear manifests slightly differently, mixing melting forms with reality to create truly grotesque images. If you watch one Batman episode at Halloween, make it “Fear of Victory.”
8) “The Demon’s Quest Parts 1 & 2″: Season 1, Episodes 60 and 61
This direct adaptation of Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil’s legendary stories “Daughter of the Demon” and “The Demon Lives Again” introduces viewers to arguably Batman’s greatest foe: Ra’s al Ghul. After Robin is kidnapped by unknown assailants, Batman must team up with Ghul, an international crime lord whose daughter has been similarly kidnapped. Often feeling like a James Bond story told through a demonic lens, “The Demon’s Quest” establishes Batman as a not just the guardian of Gotham, but of the world itself.
9) “Two-Face Parts 1 & 2”: Season 1, Episodes 10 and 11
Batman: TAS spent the first 10 episodes of the series establishing Harvey Dent as a part of Gotham before turning him into the murderous Two-Face. We’d seen Harvey fight crime, heck we’d almost seen him die at the hands of Poison Ivy, but this was something else. Introducing Dent’s multiple personalities was a risk for the children’s show, but it paid off giving this terrifying villain a level of emotional depth others lacked. Dent’s mental disintegration is horrific enough, but when a terrible accident mutilates his face an even darker force takes over. Thoughtful, dark, and with some of the best lighting in the show’s history, Two-Face is a masterpiece. Both parts of it.
10) “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement”: Season 1, Episode 13
For some reason, episodes in which Batman works with children have a tendency to be among the series’ best. “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” reads like an adventure straight out of a child’s imagination. Two kids inspired by the Dark Knight to start their own detective club find their hero injured in an alley and being stalked by the Penguin. Hiding Batman in their basement while he recovers, the kids learn what it means to be a hero and the risks of protecting one. In a series that was often dark, “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” is a fun, bright light.
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11) “Vendetta”: Season 1, Episode 23
Killer Croc is often played for laughs, but his debut episode shows the proper respect to this monstrous mutant. Harvey Bullock might not be a perfect cop, but even Batman doubts he’s a kidnapper, despite evidence piling up to the contrary. His investigation leads him to Killer Croc, who is framing Bullock from his layer beneath the Gotham’s waterways. Directed like a Brian De Palma film down to its eye for horror and tension, Vendetta is a scary noir thriller unlike anything shown before on a children’s cartoon.
12) “Mudslide”: Season 1, Episode 52
Clayface is back, but his time may be running out. His body is slowly falling apart, with the only cure coming in the form of an experimental treatment. Turning to crime yet again to pay his bills, Clayface lashes out with a newfound ferocity, putting both his life and Batman’s at risk in his insane pursuit. “Mudslide” completes the tragic story of Clayface, in a surprisingly horrific manner. If you’re watching these episodes with children, don’t be surprised if this one sticks with them at bedtime.
13) “Christmas with the Joker”: Season 1, Episode 2
The holidays can be a nightmare, particularly when the Joker is around. Fresh off an escape from Arkham Asylum, the Clown Prince of Crime takes over the airwaves for his own holiday special, with the lives of special guests Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, and Summer Gleeson at stake. Will Batman and Robin be able to save the hostages before Christmas is ruined? And most importantly, will they have time to watch It’s A Wonderful Life? This is easily the most heartwarming Christmas story to involve a hostage situation to ever hit children’s TV.
14) “Sideshow”: Season 2, Episode 1
Most Killer Croc stories begin and end with his monstrous nature, but “Sideshow” uses that familiar trope to humanize the beast. While on the run from Batman, Killer Croc finds a family of circus freaks living in the woods. Finally finding a place he fits in the world, the question remains if can Croc turn against his evil nature or if his demons will get the better of him. With gorgeous character designs and a stunning score to match, “Sideshow” is a delightful change of pace for the series.
15) “Harley and Ivy“: Season 1, Episode 56
Plenty of modern bloggers like to point out that the Joker’s relationship with Harley is abusive, but its a fact that Batman: TAS explored in its first season. When the Joker fires Harley Quinn in a screaming fury, she sets out to prove she doesn’t need him. Teaming up with Poison Ivy the duo is quickly dubbed the city’s Queens of Crime much to the chagrin of the Joker. Harley’s friendship with Ivy is realistic, down to the uncomfortable conversations about the Joker’s abuse. Despite the occasionally heavy themes, this is one of the funniest episodes of the series, thanks to the joyful portrayal of the team’s crime spree and oddly sweet domesticated homelife.
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16) “Read My Lips”: Season 1, Episode 64
For all of the wild cards played by Batman: TAS, showcasing The Ventriloquist in a children’s cartoon is the weirdest. Sure, Two-Face has multiple personalities, but he also has a code of honor. The Ventriloquist is a meek man whose mind contains a brutal murderous gangster who only manifests when he’s holding his dummy. “Read My Lips” is a hard-boiled crime thriller wrapped up in a psychological thriller, where somehow the guy dressing up like a bat isn’t the strangest idea in play. Add to the pot The Ventriloquist’s wonderfully bizarre henchmen, and you’ve got a recipe for a classic episode.
17) “Birds of a Feather”: Season 1, Episode 47
There’s a recurring theme in Batman: TAS of giving the villains a chance to show their less evil side, but reform never comes easy for the rogues. After his latest release from Arkham, the Penguin attempts to go straight. He even makes some friends in a posh new social circle, falling in the love in the process. But it’s hard for a man like the Penguin to believe he’s wanted, and when he overhears some gossip, his dark side comes waddling back with a vengeance. Even if his actions are deplorable, “Birds of a Feather” will make you feel for the Penguin. Even a bad little bird man deserves an honest second chance.
18) “Shadow of the Bat Parts 1 & 2”: Season 1, Episode 57 and 58
Batgirl didn’t get many chances to shine in Batman: TAS, but “Shadow of the Bat” is a particular bright spot. When Commissioner Gordon is framed for corruption, his daughter Barbara takes up the mantle of the Bat to investigate his innocence on her own. Facing off with Batman, Robin, and Two-Face, Barbara must clear her father’s name before his fellow inmates get their hands on him. Batgirl’s never treated as a love interest; she’s treated with the respect her skills deserve. In the modern era that’s special, but in 1993 it was downright groundbreaking.
19) “Paging the Crime Doctor”: Season 1, Episode 53
It’s a shame Batman: TAS’s episodes that focus on his street-level crime fighting were so few and far between, especially since it kept us from more stories like “Paging the Crime Doctor.” Tackling the Saturday-morning-ready topic of underground mob surgeons isn’t easy for a kids show, but it manages by carefully blocking around the violence. This subtle framework helps explore the damaged relationships between family members while keeping things kid-friendly. It turns out you don’t need supervillains to tell a great Batman story.
20) “Pretty Poison”: Season 1, Episode 5
Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent is in love and wants his friend Bruce Wayne to meet his fiancée, the lovely Pamela Isley. But when Dent is poisoned, Batman finds himself racing to discover the identity of the poison and the culprit. Poison Ivy’s small-screen debut has all the makings of a great noir murder mystery; a fem fatale for ages, victims with understandable enemies, and legitimate emotional catharsis. In fact, you could remove the giant plant fight from the end without harming the quality of the episode, but blending the fantastic with the traditional is one of the things this show is beloved for.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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